Monday, November 23, 2009
One of the latest epiphanies I have now been working on over the past few weeks is shoulders up! I have a terrible habit of hunching my shoulders when I concentrate while working a horse (and I don't think I am the only one to do this, as while looking for photos of horses in extended trot alone I found tons of photos of riders - even professionals - hunched over their horses!). I do it at the trot when I'm asking for a leg yield, I do it as I ask for a canter...I do it often. I always straighten up afterwards, but it's important I learn to just stay straight in the first place. Although this is something I was already aware my body was doing, and I have always been aware of its effect on my horses, I never really realised quite the extent of the effect my hunched shoulders have on my horses...until a few weeks ago.
I was working Link (our Thoroughbred) down the center of the arena and was asking him for a leg yield. He was being a bit sluggish and not quite as sharp and responsive as I wanted, so of course I applied more leg. As we passed X, I realised my shoulders were hunched and made a conscious effort to straighten them up. Immediately, Link responded by leg yielding lighter, by being more responsive and by giving me a cleaner yield.
I always talk about how our horses are a reflection of us and how what we do with our bodies affects their performance, but sometimes I think we all still forget at times, particularly when we are concentrated on a specific task at hand. This was definitely one of those times! I still do hunch my shoulders of course, however now I make a really conscious effort to keep them up and it's working - when I do, Link's leg yields can be beautiful (for our current level).
The same follows for when you are asking your horse to do shoulder-in's, haunches-in's, sidepasses, trot to canter transitions, extended trot, etc. If you are asking your horse to sit back on his hind and lift his shoulders, you must do the same. Try it out - particularly if you have developed your horse to be very sensitive (and even moreso if he is already very sensitive and responsive naturally), you should notice a difference. Whatever you are asking your horse to do - from weight shifts to rib placement, you must do yourself, in your body, to enable him to succeed. Always try to be self-aware and keep your own position in mind when riding and training.